Authors: Belle Aurora
Lev: a Shot Callers novel
Published by Belle Aurora
Copyright © 2015 Belle Aurora
First published October 2015
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Table of Contents
I was dying. I hadn’t been surer of anything in my life.
As I sat in the alley, staring at the dirty brick wall stained with substances I’d rather not think of, I wondered if this was the place it would happen.
My stomach gave a loud growl of complaint, and rather than feeling hungry, pain consumed me. My lips quivered, and I curled in on myself, hugging my arms around my bent legs, my forehead resting on my knees. It was then, hidden away from the prying eyes of spectators, that I cried.
The warmth of the tears I shed were hardly a comfort to me. I did, however, take solace in knowing I still felt something. Anything.
I was starving, quite literally. It had been days since I ate anything. Last week, I’d become so desperate I ate from the trash. My desperation turned to regret in a matter of hours. I got sick to my stomach from the rancid food, throwing up until I was emptier than I had been before. I wouldn’t be taking that risk again. It wasn’t worth it.
It left me feeling more than desperation. I felt hopelessness.
Not ready to accept my fate, I realized in complete calm that I would become nothing more than a statistic if I didn’t do something about my current situation.
The first item on my list: Find food.
It was late. The sounds of the city streets were quieting down, and many of the stores in my view had turned off their neons. I needed to move quickly if I had any chance of finding something to eat.
I pulled the compact mirror out of my jacket pocket and wiped the stains of the three-day-old mascara from under my eyes. I didn’t need that mirror to show me I was pale and that my cheeks were sunken. I felt like a walking skeleton. Looked like one too. My collarbone protruded harshly, my shoulders were pointed, and my cheekbones looked sharp enough to cut. I hid my body under the coat I’d been given at the women’s shelter, but there was no hiding my face.
Anyone could tell I was emaciated.
I wrapped my arms around myself, my body in a constant state of chill, and walked out of my alley. I didn’t have to walk long before I spotted a Styrofoam container sitting on a table outside of a restaurant that had closed for the night. With my eyes on the prize, my stomach rumbled in excitement as I walked casually over to it. When I got there, I felt eyes on me. I lifted my face to see a young boy, no older than sixteen, looking back at me.
I wanted to cry as soon as I realized he looked very much like me… thin, dirty, and hungry. I knew what it felt like to be hungry. I’d been hungry for years. He eyed me a long moment before he returned his eyes to the container.
I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t take it from him. And I could have. I’m a fast runner. Instead, as I felt the familiar prickling behind my eyes and nose, I jerked my chin toward to container and smiled.
He stood there, looking tired and dejected, scratching at his arm. Neither of us moved. A moment of optimism shot through me. If he wasn’t going to take it, I would.
Finally, he stepped forward, and recognizing part of himself in me, he started to speak as he opened the container. “We can share.”
We both looked down at our findings and my heart sank. A few stiff French fries sat in the bottom of the box, as well as the hardened crust of a sandwich and a few leaves of wilted, brown lettuce.
The boy, looking angry with himself for offering part of his slim fare, held the box out to me. And I couldn’t help but smile. It was funny how people who had nothing would offer everything to those in need, and people who had comfort scarcely offered it to people who needed it.
My stomach growled angrily and I turned my smile on the boy. I lied through that smile. “No thanks. I’m not hungry.”
The tilt of his brow told me he didn’t believe me, but he shrugged and walked away with the box, leaving me alone to regret my decision.
God, you’re stupid.
I nodded slowly to myself. I knew that already.
My numb feet took me three more blocks before I came across a sandwich bar that was closing. A man with short brown hair stacked chairs from outside the deli and brought them in before moving to close the door.
“Wait,” I called, rushing over.
The man frowned down at me, his dark eyes scrutinizing my every move. “What? We’re closed.”
I lowered my eyes and spoke quietly. “I’m sorry to bother you, sir. I was just wondering whether you had any food that you were about to throw out.” I peered up at him. “Anything would do. I’m not picky.”
“You’re hungry?” He scowled at me, his lip curling. “Get a job.”
The door moved to close a second time and I panicked, placing my foot in the way. My eyes widened in shock at the bold move. That wasn’t like me at all. The door was stopped a few inches before it shut, and the man looked down at my foot before looking back up at me and glowering. “I should beat your ass, girl. Move your foot or I’ll break the fucking thing.”
My lips quivered as my vision blurred. “I’m so hungry. Please,” I begged. “
His scowl left him a moment to study my face. He opened the door another few inches before looking up and down the street. “You want food?”
I nodded enthusiastically.
He leaned back a little to leer at me. “Suck my dick and you’ll get fed.”
I didn’t believe it possible, but I paled further then whispered, “I just want something to eat. It doesn’t have to be much. I-I,” I stuttered, “I don’t want to do that. Please.”
His scowl returned, harder than before. “Obviously not hungry enough.” He jerked his chin toward the street. “Get the fuck out of here, bitch.”
As he closed the door, locking it, I fell into full-fledged panic, my stomach turning violently. I threw myself at the glass door, pounding my fists against it until my knuckles throbbed sorely. My voice broke as I cried quietly, tears of regret sliding down my cheeks, “Please! I-I’m sorry! I’ll do it!” But the man left my vision as he walked into the back room, turning the lights off behind him.
My shoulders shook as I sobbed in complete silence.
Angry with myself, I yelled a broken, “
I’ll do it, dammit!
” and slammed my fist against the glass.
But the door remained closed. I slid down the glass door to sit on the icy-cold cement of the sidewalk, crying weakly. My head pounding, hungry, heartsick, and humiliated, my tears stopped suddenly as I closed my eyes and realized my situation was worse than I thought.
I was officially at an all-time low. But not for long. I was desperate, and desperation was a damn good motivator.
I stood by the door staring at my brother as he spoke to the man trembling in the chair by the solid marble desk. It didn’t take much for me to recognize he was angry. That familiar bored glare told me everything I needed to know. He didn’t raise his voice. He never raised his voice. That wasn’t Sasha’s style.
“How long we been friends, Paolo?” He spoke slowly but firmly.
The man didn’t answer. There was no point in answering. Sasha wasn’t friends with anyone. He merely tolerated people.
Sasha looked up at me, his light brown eyes hard. “How long we been friends with Paolo, Lev?”
My mind was quick to calculate. I answered immediately, “Three years, two months, and four days.”
The moment I finished, Sasha repeated, “Three years.” He stood up from his sitting position. “Two months.” He moved around the desk and sat in front of the short, stocky man. “And four days.” Then he scowled, lowering his voice to a hush. “That’s a long time, Paolo.” He made a show of removing his cufflinks and rolling up his sleeves. “So when I hear my friends are leaving me to work with Laredo, I begin to wonder if my friend was a friend at all.”
Paolo blanched before straightening. “Who told you that?” He tried to scoff, but it came out a wheeze. “That’s bullshit, Sash. I told you I’m taking some time off. My Vera doesn’t like the hours I’m keeping. Keeps saying I don’t spend enough time at home. Missing out on the kids growing up and all that shit.” Then he forced a smile. “You know what they say. Happy wife, happy life.”
Sasha closed his eyes, running his hand, decorated with thick silver rings, through his hair with a sigh. His cheek ticked. “I don’t like liars, Paolo. You know this. You’ve seen what happens to liars.” He squeezed his eyes shut and rolled his neck from side-to-side, working out the kinks. “Why are you lying to me?”
Then he did something stupid. He lied again. “I’m not working with Laredo. I swear to God, I’m not.”
I shook my head. The man was an idiot. You didn’t lie to Sasha. You didn’t lie to any Leokov.
Sasha’s eyes opened with a flash. He took a deep breath before laying it out there. “There was a meet this morning at Aphrodite’s Kiss.” Paolo blanched, but Sasha went on. “It was kind of funny, actually.” The look on Sasha’s face told us there was nothing funny about this situation. “Laredo told the boys that I needed to treat my staff better, or else they’d follow your lead. Said he’d welcome any and all of them with open arms.”
The short man blustered, turning bright red. “W-well, he’s full of shit!”
“You embarrass me,” Sasha said in a calm hush.
Paolo stood when he realized it was over. It was done. He was caught. “I never wanted this, Sash. You forced my hand. I can’t keep working like this. You’re so fucking demanding.” He panted before begging for understanding, “I had a goddamn heart attack last month! I nearly died. This job is
Sasha nodded thoughtfully. The near silence in the room felt thick with the soft sounds of Paolo’s wheeze. Finally, Sasha stood, and to the complete disbelief of the short man, he held out his hand. “Good luck.”
Paolo, not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, took the outstretched hand and shook it. “I’m sorry, Sash. Really, I am.”
Sasha shook his hand firmly before letting go. “Me too.” He added, “We’ll miss you ‘round here.” He walked back behind his desk. “I’ve got a couple of things to finish up. Go down to the bar and we’ll have a drink before you leave.”
It was clear that Paolo couldn’t believe his ears, or his luck. “Don’t go to any trouble—”
But he was cut off with Sasha’s firm, “I insist.”
Paolo smiled then, the idiot. “Okay. I’ll be there.”
He turned and moved to walk out, but I stood my ground, eyeing him. The little man looked up at me. He seemed afraid.
People didn’t like me.
I didn’t blame them.
We stood there another moment before Sasha spoke again, gently this time. “Let the man pass, Lev.”
I heard my brother, but I didn’t want to listen. I didn’t like Paolo.
Another moment, then again, “Move, Lev.”
I stepped to the side and let the idiot pass. As soon as he was out the door, I closed it behind him and said what needed to be said. “He’s a liability.”
Sasha sighed as he sat. “I know.” He picked up the phone, and after a short while, he spoke into the receiver. “I need you.” Without another word, he hung up.
We waited in silence, and when the knock sounded, I opened the door for the tall, slim man. He wore jeans, tennis shoes, and a short-sleeved blue polo shirt. He wore glasses and looked sophisticated with his blond hair gelled back, but nothing could hide the pock-scars on his cheeks. “What’s up?”
Sasha nodded toward the door, and I closed it behind us, locking it. The tall man smirked playfully. “Should I be worried? I feel like I just got called into the principal’s office.”
Sasha ran a hand down his face, pausing to squeeze the bridge of his nose. “Can you induce a heart attack?”
He leaned against the wall and sighed dramatically. “Well, shit. And today was such a good day.”
Sasha glared at him. “Is it doable, Pox?”
Pox grinned. “Yeah, it is. It might take a while to get the dosage right. It’ll take a bit of this, a bit of that. Most of the shit is illegal or off the market. When do you need it by?”
“Fifteen minutes. At max.”
Pox straightened and sputtered. “You’re out of your fucking mind.” He shook his head in earnest. “No way. I can’t do it.”
I spoke up, “I know a man who deals in pharmaceuticals. The price will be high, but he can get everything you need.” I added, “They deliver.”
Pox turned to me slowly, blinked, and then glanced back at Sasha. “You are some scary motherfuckers.” His voice was full of admiration.
I gave him the phone number and listened as Pox cursed at the absurd prices for the things he needed.
The delivery boy arrived in ten minutes. The concoction was made, dissolved, and slipped into the sixth shooter Paolo drank. The men sputtered and laughed as Paolo coughed before righting himself. Sasha smiled foxlike before calling over some of the girls.
The club turned into roaring chaos when Paolo, in the midst of getting a lap dance, suffered a heart attack. Sasha performed CPR until the ambulance arrived. Witnesses told the police that Sasha did everything he could to save Paolo.
Unfortunately, he didn’t make it.